WASHINGTON — How do you spy on a spy? In the case of Senate investigators, you do it by adopting some of their methods. During the five-year investigation into the CIA interrogation and detention program, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, working in a windowless room at the spy agency’s headquarters, suspected that key documents had been removed from their computer network. Luckily, they had a hard copy. To keep it from being destroyed, Senate sleuths spirited the document from the CIA and put it in a safe in the Hart Senate Office Building. The move set off a chain of events that broke open on the floor of the Senate this week as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the intelligence committee, accused the CIA of spying on her investigators. CIA Director John Brennan insists the CIA isn’t trying to thwart her investigations. The Justice Department is now conducting two inquiries: one looking into whether the CIA illegally snooped on congressional investigators and another looking into whether those investigators broke the law.
The accusations include lying to Congress and to the Justice Department, and spying on congressional investigators to hide what the CIA was doing. Frank Underwood will no doubt be weighing in soon.
Since the rolling revelations from Edward Snowden began last year, members of Congress tasked with overseeing the government’s sprawling spy network have been trying to find a new balance between security and civil liberties. The president says there have been no abuses but admits that some changes must be made. This public struggle between Feinstein and the CIA illustrates just how hard it is to keep an eye on people who are paid to go undetected. Even if Feinstein’s accusations aren’t true, the painstaking process of cat and mouse that is revealed in this story suggests that the oversight process is so time-consuming, frustrating and opaque that it’s almost impossible to apply the necessary scrutiny to the numerous programs that make up the government’s intelligence system.